Carbon dioxide levels are currently 396.18 parts per million, over 110 ppm higher than levels just prior to the Industrial Revolution.
I’ve been aware of climate change since the third grade. I’ve read about environmental issues for as long as I can remember. Still, writing that sentence brought a cold sweat to my brow.
The famous, so-called “hockey stick graph” clearly depicts the pace of climate change. It shows two lines beating periodically over the course of 400,000 years. A blue line signifies temperature and a red line signifies levels of carbon dioxide (CO2). The two lines on the graph follow each other in a delicate dance, until the present, when the red CO2 shoots up, almost vertically.
CO2 affects temperature, which affects oceanic CO2 levels, which affect biomass, which affects volcanic activity, which affects glacial levels, which affects CO2 … And still that is grossly and almost stupidly oversimplified. Seeing this dense web of relationships is what makes me nervous. It definitely seems that we have increased CO2 far beyond its natural bounds, and to be frank, scientists don’t know exactly what will happen as we continue to pump CO2 into the atmosphere. Global temperature is already changing, and some of our best minds have predicted that the effects will not be good for most.
There are a whole host of reasons why we should be worried—economic, social and political. My motivation is environmental. I used to spend my summers volunteering at Sweetbriar Nature Camp, a nature center in my hometown. I’ve hiked, backpacked and camped. No sight is as pretty to me as looking up at a tree from below, with afternoon, amber sunlight dappling the ground. Every kid should be able to grow up with the opportunity to experience what I did and grow to love nature with the same passion. But more than that, the beauty of nature is such that it should exist for its own implicit sake, without the need to appeal to human comfort.
I believe a major answer to the crisis of climate change is alternative energy. The United States uses approximately 100 quadrillion BTUs (quads) of energy a year. According to some estimates, even if we account for distribution networks and unfavorably remote locations, America would likely be able to derive a majority of its electricity from wind. The argument is even more obvious when we turn to solar. There exist, theoretically, over 586,000 quads of solar potential across the nation. This is 15.4 times more energy than all coal buried in America, estimated at around 38,000 quads. Aggressively developing alternative energy could significantly reduce the amount of energy we derive from fossil fuels, thereby helping to prevent further harm to the delicate atmospheric balance that governs our earth’s temperature.
As denizens of this planet who share its resources and benefit from its natural services, it is our responsibility to actively care about these solutions and these issues. No person is isolated from the boons of nature. Thus, no person can separate themselves from the problems that they are helping to promulgate. At the risk of sounding extremist, I claim that even midrange effects of climate change pose a bigger threat to America and will have bigger reverberations in human consciousness then either the Nazi Holocaust or 30-odd years under fear of nuclear holocaust. Not a single aspect of the natural environment or our own society will be left without drastic, obvious, negative changes.
But how can we, as individuals, most efficiently help? In a case like this, education truly is empowerment. As class registration and drop/add roll around, consider picking up a class in environmental issues. There are also numerous things that you can modify in your daily lifestyle. For instance, try reducing your meat consumption. Ride your bike more. Move your investments from closed securities that might have investments with fossil fuel companies to alternative energy companies or funds that pledge to intelligently invest in sustainable enterprises.
My name is Lucas Spangher, and as this column draws to a close, I’d like to introduce myself. I’m a candidate for a Computer Science and Math major, with the Energy and Environment Certificate, and I hope to make my career applying these technical skills to the field of alternative energy to help the environment. I plan to write broadly on environmental issues relating to climate change, and I sincerely hope that, during the course of this semester, you’ll grow to find them as interesting and as pressing as I do. Thanks for reading, and see you in the fall!
Lucas Spangher is a Trinity junior.